Pathos: The Blind Exercises is a series of masks formed by the artist blindly manipulating a slab of clay on her face. The forms evoke masks used in Greek drama, where a character could not exist without a mask. The title refers to Aristotle’s concept of the emotional side of an argument.
In Artistotle’s Rhetoric, the art of argument contains three elements: ethos, logos, and pathos. Pathos is an appeal to the emotions of the audience in an attempt to persuade. This series of masks refers back to the classical tradition of performing, and more recent questions about the role of affect and artifice in performance and persuasion.
In ancient Greek theater, the mask transformed the performer into a character: without the mask, no action could occur. The masks of Greek theater often portrayed exaggerated features suggestive of the character’s emotional state, and a single player could trade identities by switching masks. While many Greek masks were constructed of ephemeral material, and the majority thought to have been sacrificed to Dioynysis as part of the performative ritual, their importance is depicted on many painted ceramic works from the period. The Romans later celebrated this tradition, produced many bronze and ceramic masks, as well as smaller masks and statuettes for domestic use.
Masks have long faded from the spectacle of performativity in today’s popular culture, yet the question of authentic emotion remains. In recent decades, post-modernism laid a broad theoretical framework for the willful performance of identity and disposed of the notion of biological truth. Yet contemporary media demonstrates a continued fascination with question of authenticity and emotional motivation. What motivates the public breakdowns of teenage pop stars? Are the proposals of the Greek prime minister acts of political theater, or ‘genuine’ attempts at forging a workable compromise?
This series of masks was created to explore the notion of the gesture or trace, evidence of ‘real’ emotion, enacted. Each mask is initially formed through a blind gestural act: a slab of clay is applied to the face of the artist and rudely manipulated. The ‘mask’ is removed from the face and the resulting gestures are pinched and poked to emphasize certain emotive aspects of the improvised form. While the final sculptures refer to an ancient form, the process was very much influenced by the gestural heroics often evidenced in the hand-hewn quality of works by the Otis school of California ceramicists, including Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner.
The masks seek not to lay bare the possibility of a ‘true’ emotive representation, but to reconsider the role of emotion as a highly persuasive element of both politics and performance, throughout history.